Clearing the Air

Wind Turbine and Wind Mill

Step outside and take a long, deep breath. Was the air clean and fresh or are you hacking up a lung? Check the American Lung Association's 2007 State of the Air Report and see how the air in your town ranks against the rest of the United States. The report ranks cities' air quality based on ozone (O3) and Particle Pollution (Soot). In the 2007 State of the Air report Santa Fe, New Mexico ranked as the second cleanest city in the U.S. for Long-term Particle Pollution and 21st for Short-term Particle Pollution.

What are Ozone and Particle Air Pollution?

Ozone (O3) is an extremely reactive gas molecule composed of three oxygen atoms. Ozone essentially attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. The essential raw ingredients for ozone are nitrogen oxides (NOX) and hydrocarbons, also called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Nitrogen Oxides with VOC's react with heat and sunlight to form Ozone.

Particle pollution is a mix of very tiny solid and liquid particles that are in the air we breathe. Dust storms, construction and demolition, mining operations, agriculture, and coal and oil combustion are among the activities that produce coarse particles. Burning fossil fuels generates a large part of the raw materials for fine particles. So does burning wood in residential fireplaces and wood stoves and burning agricultural fields or forests.

Air quality is fundamental to our health and ability to enjoy the outdoors. Ozone pollution is linked to risk of premature death, pulmonary inflammation, asthma attacks, and efficient lung function. Particle pollution has been linked to increased asthma attacks for children, slowed lung growth in children and teenagers, damage to the small airways of the lungs, increased risk of lung cancer, and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Ways you can reduce outdoor air pollution:

  • Drive Less. Combine trips, walk, bike, carpool, and use mass transit when available. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution. Support community plans that provide ways to get around that don’t require a car, such as more sidewalks, bike trails and transit systems.
  • Don't Burn Wood or Trash. Burning firewood and trash is among the largest source of particles in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your wood stoves to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions. Compost and recycle as much as possible and dispose of other waste properly; don’t burn it. Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard wastes.
  • Get Involved. Participate in your community’s review of its air pollution plans and support state and local efforts to clean up air pollution. Send an email or fax to urge EPA to set more protective standards for ozone air pollution. Log on to for more information on clean air advocacy.
  • Use Less Electricity. Turn off unneeded lights and use energy-efficient appliances. Using less electricity means less dirty coal burned by power plants.
  • Use Manual or Electric Lawn Tools rather than gasoline-powered. Lawnmowers, leaf blowers and chainsaws use two-stroke engines which have no pollution control devices and pollute the air much more per gallon of gasoline than cars or trucks. Try a reel mower, you'll be surprised at simple and easy it is to use.
  • Encourage Local Schools to Reduce Bus Emissions. Most buses use heavily polluting diesel engines; newer fuels and engines are cleaner. Many school systems are using the EPA’s Clean School Bus Campaign to clean up these dirty emissions. Schools are also not allowing school buses to idle at the building, to keep exhaust levels down.

More Info:

American Lung Association State of the Air: 2007 report.

State of the Air 2007 Executive Summary

EPA: Clean School Bus USA

New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau

Santa Fe New Mexican: N.M. environment chief accuses EPA of kowtowing to polluters on clean air rules